nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
February 2, 2007
Apocalypse Neo is a program of three short plays by the New York Neo-Futurists that all deal with the idea of the apocalypse. Because they're by the Neo-Futurists, they are (a) outrageously funny and pretty smart; (b) rooted in the random; and (c) mindful of the company's house style, by which I mean that fans of their long-running Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind will recognize elements in these longer pieces, and by which I also mean that a certain amount of self-reference (branding?) is also part of the package. It makes for a satisfying evening; it's a shame that the plan is only to run them for one more weekend.
The first piece on the bill is Crystal Skillman's Revelations of a City of Us, in which five actors play-act at their own apocalypse: they collaborate (though they do not always cooperate) to create a post-end-of-the-world scenario and then use their craft to inhabit it as fully as possible, given the fact that they're on stage with just a few props at their disposal. It's a meta-theatre put-on, but it works because it's so earnestly followed through. It's also really funny, especially during some digressions that involve scenes from a supposed musical version of the film Apocalypse Now. The play also features a little bit of audience participation and a great finale in which one of the five players ventures out into the "unknown" apocalyptic Earth just beyond 85 East 4th Street. Savvy, jolly, hopeful stuff.
The second piece, In which the end of the world..., is the work of writer/actor Justin Tolley and its six other cast members Erica Livingston, Lindsay Brandon Hunter, Emma Gordon, Michael Davis, Jarrod Zayas, and Rob Neill; it's excellent. It takes the shape of a debate: the affirmative position is that the world will end in our lifetime; the negative position is that it won't. An actual audience vote determines the winner (and an appropriate punishment is doled out to the losers, while the audience gets to hear Neill croon along with a French recording of "Sweet Caroline," which tune is now stuck in my head; thanks, guys).
What's terrific about this play is that, despite what must have been enormous temptation to go for either parody or irony, its creators take their topic seriously; the result is a genuine debate, framed as a collection of miniature one-act plays, that authentically considers the sides of this argument. It seemed to me that Tolley is siding with the optimists on this one (he's on that team, anyway); the writing is absolutely gorgeous:
The morning after I die,
the man on the corner is passing out newspapers.
This rock (he holds up a rock he's putting in the suitcase)
Exists; someone is tossing it at an enemy or pounding it to pieces or failing to notice it along the side of the road.
There is a space in the world in the shape of me
That is now useful for something else.
Rounding out the evening is Rob Neill's Monkeyland II (anatk 21.10). I have to admit that I didn't totally get this play: it felt to me like a mashup or collage of material from various sources, but without knowing the sources it didn't add up to something entirely cohesive (and I could be entirely wrong about my assumption here, to boot). It is an entertaining piece—it's a series of vignettes built around a little wind-up toy monkey that is trying to cross the stage from back to front. He's interrupted by a variety of seemingly random events and sequences, some of which are funny and most of which are quite strange. There's some audience involvement in this piece, and a strong finish. But I would have liked to have understood it a little better.
As a whole, Apocalypse Neo is definitely satisfying, and at its best, it's nourishing as well. Drama and laughter are the right tools to deal with a subject as big and scary as the (possibly imminent) destruction of the world as we know it; the Neos are definitely onto something here.